Saturday, March 29, 2008

Rodman Philbrick

Freak the Mighty
by Rodman Philbrick
Recommended Age: 12+

Some of you may already be familiar with this story, which was made into a movie called The Mighty a few years ago. It's a very moving story about a year-long friendship between a big, stupid, overgrown ox of a boy and a mentally gifted neighbor the same age (eighth grade) whose insides are growing while his outsides aren't (the same deal that Tattoo on Fantasy Island had, which I understand is very painful and eventually fatal).

The two boys form a friendship so close, it is more like a symbiotic relationship, like they become one person - brains and brawn - as the big kid carries the little one around on his shoulders and they fantasize about fighting dragons and rescuing damsels in distress. Unfortunately, their own distress is the real problem. "Freak" (the brainy one) has serious health problems, and his Mighty friend Max (the brawny one) is being raised by his grandparents while his father, who is in jail for murdering his mother when he was a little boy, is coming up for parole.

It is a magnificent story about a life-changing friendship and boys overcoming their limitations. Caution: if you have even half a heart, you cannot finish this book without using Kleenex.

Max the Mighty
by Rodman Philbrick
Recommended Age: 12+

This is the sequel to Freak the Mighty, featuring the surviving half of that tragic duo. Maxwell Kane is still big and strong, a loner living in his grandparents' basement, and generally thought of as stupid; but at least, thanks to his late friend Kevin, he can read, and he no longer worries much about his father, aptly nicknamed "Killer Kane," coming to get him.

But a normal life still eludes Max. The world, indeed, turns very weird when he meets a tiny, red-headed girl named Rachel, nicknamed Worm because she is such a bookworm. Before he knows what he's doing, he and Worm are on the run from the law and especially from Worm's horrid stepfather, the Undertaker. They set off across country to find Worm's real father, meeting good, bad, and all-around pretty unusual people along the way.

And when they finally reach the town of Chivalry, Montana, those of you who have read I Am the Cheese or Walk Two Moons will not be awfully surprised. Or maybe, yet, you will. For the chase reaches an ominous, deserate climax in which, it seems, defeat may be snatched from the jaws of victory.

Enjoy this book about a girl who believes in magic too much, and a boy who thinks maybe magic believes in him. Enjoy this tale of the beginning of a lifelong friendship... and wonder, with dread, until almost the last page, how long that life will be.

REM World
by Rodman Philbrick
Recommended Age: 12+

Here's another interesting book from the author of Freak the Mighty. It concerns a fat kid named Arthur who sends in for a mail-order device guaranteed to make him lose weight in his sleep. What he gets is a weird kind of helmet. He goes down into his basement, lies down on his late father's workbench (yes, he's grown up without a father) and puts the helmet on, and goes right to sleep.

Then he wakes up, walks out of the basement into the backyard thinking that the thing didn't do the trick, and finds himself on a beach on a completely different world. A world of man-sized talking frogs, winged people, giants and sea serpents and demons and bees the size of dogs. A world that, like his own world and all other worlds, is threatened with annihilation because he made a mistake with the directions to his REM World device and has done the impossible: he's in two places at once, in REM World (without his helmet and thereby no way to get back) and on his father's workbench, snoring away.

And because the impossible has happened, the Nothing has found its way into the universe and is slowly chewing away at everything that exists. Only fat, pathetic Arthur can fight it, with the help of a shape-changing creature called Morf who has been sent to be his guide, and the friends he meets along the way. He has to build his physical strength through a series of tasks, and his courage through a series of desperate challenges, in order to find out how to fight the Nothing and get back home.

The story moves very fast and much of it is very beautiful and very odd, but it's neat to see the changes that come over Arthur. I think kids with imagination will like it. The moral is, in fact, "Use your imagination."

The Young Man and the Sea
by Rodman Philbrick
Recommended Age: 12+

Samuel “Skiff” Beaman, Jr., is twelve years old and small for his age; but he carries a lot of responsibility. Since his mother died, his father doesn’t do much except drink beer and watch TV. Even when the family’s fishing boat sinks on the last day of school, Big Skiff doesn’t lift a finger. So it’s up to Little Skiff to raise the sunken Mary Rose and repair the damage to her hull. Then he sets out to earn enough money to rebuild her diesel engine by single-handedly fishing 200 lobster traps in a 10-foot skiff, powered by a 5-horsepower motor.

This is a slow, strenuous way of making the thousands of dollars he needs. And even that method goes down the drain when a mean rich kid cuts the lines on most of Skiff’s lobster traps. But he soon figures out a way to make all the money he needs - fast. All he has to do is motor his skiff to the ocean ledge, 30 miles out from shore, harpoon a giant blue tuna, and bring it home fresh to sell the meat to a Japanese fish buyer. You can get a lot of Grade-A sushi out of one giant tuna.

So, before he can think about it enough to talk himself out of it, Skiff steals a harpoon from a nice old man (a harpoon his father made in the good old days), fuels up his skiff, chucks in a few other supplies, and motors out under cover of night. During the next twenty-four hours, Skiff faces many dangers, his own fear and grief, and a fish bigger than his boat.

Skiff’s experience is a moving tale of survival, courage, and determination to make things better for his father and himself. Told in the grammatically incorrect Maine twang of its protagonist, the story is filled with down-to-earth poetry and a fierce love of the sea. Plus, the giant tuna is such a marvelous, mighty creature, you will never again look at a can of "Chunk Light in Spring Water" the same way.

EDIT: The U.K. title of this book is Lobster Boy. Philbrick is also the author of The Last Book in the Universe (so called), spooky trilogies about ghosts, werewolves, and aliens, adult novels such as Coffins and Dark Matter, and a historical novel about the Donner Party.

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